I want to stress, first of all, that this is an original work of Fan Fiction. It takes place within the world of the 1942 movie CASABLANCA. I did NOT come up with this ‘setting’. Although Casablanca is a real place located in the country of Morocco, the setting is entirely the creation of the Epstein brothers for the film.
Rick’s Café Americain, July, 1941
Rick’s was full that night. It usually was. Sam tickled the ivories with his usual grace and good humor. Good old Sam; I was going to miss him when I left. I suppose I’d better enjoy him while I had the chance. My contact would be there soon.
While I was waiting, I might as well have something to eat. A nice Polish sausage would be great right about now, but that was probably asking a bit much. There was no Poland anymore…not officially. Nazis notwithstanding, they probably couldn’t get good Polish sausages here, anyway.
Fish; fish looked good. Once I got it, it tasted good, too. I felt like I hadn’t eaten in days, so the plate of food didn’t last long. The waiter came and removed the plate and brought me a whiskey.
From behind, I noticed a man walk in and directly to the bar. His hair was brown and slicked back, and he wore a white tuxedo jacket and black bow tie. That may be the man I’m supposed to meet. He was saying something to Sasha, the bartender. They talked for a minute, and then the man turned toward me.
No, it wasn’t the contact I was supposed to meet, but I recognized him, just the same. This guy was a regular. He was a gambler. I think a roulette player; that’s probably what he was, anyway. That was the most popular game in the back.
Everybody knew there was a back room with gambling in it. The staff, the patrons, hell, even the police knew. It’s not like ‘illegal’ gambling was a big blip on anybody’s radar, anyway. And if anybody – the wrong anybody – felt like sticking their big snout in, there was a big guy named Abdul who was usually by the door.
What was more important to the police than his gambling was that he was a document forger. He did just about any documents people needed. But he made his real money supplying the one thing people in Casablanca really wanted – exit visas.
Louis Renault, the Prefect of Police in Casablanca, was also in the business. He made sure that his signature was required on every exit visa going out of town. He didn’t do it for free, either. He ran a nice little side business charging for the privilege of his signature. Most times, it was cash; but on occasion, he would settle for the company of a good woman (or a not so good woman.)
A few minutes after Ugarte had made his way into the back room, my contact did arrive. I didn’t dare approach him immediately, though. It would be safer to bump into him later. Who knew who might be watching? I wasn’t exactly going the legal route; as if there was one, according to the Nazis.
He just ordered a drink at the bar. Apparently, Sasha was in a talkative mood tonight. As I kept watching, they seemed like they were having a lengthy conversation about something. It could have been the weather, the latest news of the war, or how the kitchen staff was handling the shortages for all I knew.
I ordered another whiskey and halfway through it, decided to make my move. Before I could even get up from my table, an older gentleman asked to join me. It was my contact, I was sure of it. I had taken my eyes off him and was concentrating on ordering my 2nd drink, and that’s when he must have decided to come over.
I invited him to sit, and like any good salesman, he started with an introduction and a friendly smile.
“Bonsior. Mon nom estRémy.”
“Good evening, Rémy. You can speak English. I am from Poland, but am speaking nothing but English now.”
Rémy paused for a moment. He seemed to be searching for his words. Then he bit his upper lip and started again, in English. “Nice to meet you. Do you like Rick’s?” He seemed to have more trouble with his English than I. But of course, I practiced mine with an almost-religious fervor.
“Yes, I do.” We chatted about this and that for a few more minutes until we got comfortable with one another and our surroundings. Then we ordered another round of drinks and got ready to get down to business.
“So, you are finally ready to leave Casablanca? Good for you. A man is waiting to take you.”
“Good. Yes, I’m ready to leave. Who?” (ahem). I cleared my throat to warn Rémy of an approaching ear, or more precisely, a pair of them. They belonged to the waiter.
He checked on our drinks, which we had let get some age on them. We downed them quickly and ordered another round. We waited until the waiter returned with them before picking up where we’d left off.
“Who do I meet?”
“There’s going to be a black man at the marina tonight. His name is Chiamaka. He is the captain of a boat that will take you to Portugal. Your passage has been arranged. You will pay him. Bring 12,000 francs in cash.”
“12,000? I thought the price we agreed on was 10,000?”
“Recent circumstances have forced me to go up on the price. It is going to be harder to get you out of Casablanca than I first thought.”
“But we had a deal.”
“I told you, costs have gone up. I did not realize you were a wanted man.”
“I was a soldier in Poland. I did my part, no more, no less than others.” I was starting to get testy. He had told me 10,000 francs, and that’s what I had put aside. Of course I had a little more for my expenses getting to Lisbon, and for once I was there, but he didn’t need to know that.
He was stammering again; probably looking for words in English. “I am not sure why the Germans want you so bad, but you are on their wanted list.”
I was on their list, alright. I was sure of it. I was a unit commander in the Polish resistance after the invasion. The group I commanded broke into a small communications center outside of Kalisz. We went in and killed everybody, then blew up the equipment. I have no idea how they found out I was a part of it.
Everybody in the unit, there were 8 of us, was sworn to secrecy and totally committed to repelling the invaders. I really don’t think any of my men would have betrayed me, or our cause. We all had families and lives to protect.
“I do not know where you come by your information, but I am simply a man trying to get to freedom. I do not have 12,000 francs, anyway.”
“I fail to see how that’s my problem. Look, since you were unaware of this development, maybe I can do it for a little less, but only a thousand less. I must have 11,000 francs.”
I paused for a moment to make Rémythink I was considering his offer. Of course I could come up with an extra thousand francs, that wasn’t the problem. It was insulting to have to. What did my being a wanted man have to do with the expenses he claimed to have laid out, anyway. He wasn’t the one risking his neck, here.
“Yes,” I finally said. “We have a deal. 11,000 francs.”
We talked for perhaps another half hour, and laid out the plans for my getaway. I was to meet Chiamaka at the marina at midnight. When I left Rick’s, that would give me an hour, or perhaps a little longer, to get my things together and get there.
Just as an added precaution, I left soon after our conversation had concluded. He stayed there for a bit, perhaps to talk to another client, perhaps just to avoid leaving at the same time as me. He would leave eventually, and go to collect money from some other poor slob like me.
I would have to consider my dilemma later. For now, I had only one purpose: to get on that ship and get out of Casablanca. Thinking about things like betrayal would just have to wait.
I hurried back to my tiny one-room apartment above a dry goods store and quickly packed the few meager belongings that I felt necessary. I would say a quick ‘goodbye’ to this place, most likely never to return. That’s ok, there’s not much about Casablanca that I will miss.
With 40 minutes left, I departed for the marina. By car, it was perhaps a 15 minute trip at best. Of course, I didn’t have a car, so I was on foot. And I had to stay in the shadows; there was a curfew in Casablanca.
I walked down one dusty street after another; turning first this way, then that. I kept glancing around for any sign of police presence, but found none. I was alone with my thoughts, but even that was not comforting. I was cutting it close.
Finally, I could hear the waves. I turned the corner one last time and walked onto the docks of the marina. I looked around for any prying eyes that might be here and also to find my wayward boat captain.
After a short time, I spotted the ship I was looking for. It was called the Blackbird. As I got to within spitting distance of the boat, a tall and skinny black man stepped out of the hold. He asked if I needed something, and I told him I was there to pick up a package for Señor Ferrari. That was the code that Rémyhad told me to use.
At that, the boat captain smiled and introduced himself as Chiamaka. He looked to be a genuinely happy person. Dressed in long pants and sandals, he was not at all what I was expecting. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting – just that he wasn’t it.
His eyes darted around quickly for any eavesdroppers. Since he saw none, he relaxed and smiled bigger. I handed him the satchel I had carried from my tiny one-room apartment; the one containing 11,000 carefully counted out francs.
I was welcomed aboard the rocking ship and quickly shown the layout and the storeroom I would be using as my makeshift cabin for the 4-day journey to Lisbon. Chiamaka asked if I had any questions or concerns before we cast off. I told him that I didn’t.
By the time he untied the ship from its moorings and we set sail, I was settled into my temporary home. Now I could relax and get some sleep. I should also have plenty of time to think about who had betrayed me to the Nazis…and why.